Between the Loads: Health Care at the Laundromat?

New research suggests laundromats could provide a stage for public health interventions.

a graph of a number of people with their condition

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When you’re at the laundromat, you have time to spare. Maybe just enough time for a health care screening you wouldn’t otherwise get.

New research suggests laundromats could provide a stage for public health interventions. Jack Tsai and his team surveyed 193 laundromat users across eight laundromats in San Antonio, Texas about access to care, use of preventative health services and health status.

Most laundromat users surveyed were living at or near poverty level, and 53% did not have health insurance. This group might not have the time or money to access health screenings available at standard medical visits. But 78% of those surveyed expressed interest in receiving healthcare interventions between laundry loads.

The group struggled to access preventative health care. Compared to other citizens, laundromat customers were less likely to have a primary care provider or to have received a routine medical checkup in the past year. Laundromat customers were also less likely to have had a preventative health care screening in the past year, like a pap smear or mammogram among women or a prostate exam among men. And the proportion of male and female laundromat users who reported that they were tested for HIV in the past year was over 30% lower than the Texas state population.

Laundromat users often report poor health. The bar graph shows how many laundromat users out of those surveyed reported high blood pressure, arthritis, high cholesterol, and diabetes. All are common chronic medical conditions that were reported at higher rates among laundromat users than general population estimates.

Effective community public health approaches find novel ways to reach people. Schools have long served as settings for public health interventions. Barbershops, beauty salons, and libraries have also emerged as sites of creative community interventions, especially to fill health care gaps where communities need it most.

It may be time to add laundromats to the list.

Databyte via Jack Tsai, Victoria Solis, Vanessa Schick. Medical Care Needs of Laundromat Users in San Antonio, Texas: A Potentially Unique Setting for Health Interventions. Journal of Community Health, 2022.